Yesterday was International Women’s Day. On Twitter I named six women who inspire me: Dorothy Day, Dorothy Stang, Wangari Maathai, Pandita Ramabai, Simone Weil. That’s one woman from each continent,using the hashtag #sixwordsaturday #internationalwomensday.
Today Heidi and I got to share some words of encouragement with our church family: I led the communion and she preached. She started with the words of Samuel Johnstone from Boswell’s Life, where Boswell writes,
“I told him I had been that morning at a meeting of the people called Quakers, where I had heard a woman preach.
Johnson: “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”
A considerable amount of ink and noise is spilt everyday on this topic, and whilst time and effort is consumed with that, a women like Christine Caine is preaching the gospel to thousands and working within an inch of her own life to secure the release of women around the world trapped in sexual slavery through an organisation called the A21 Campaign.
Some parts of the Christian community remain unhappy about women preaching and in some places when women speak in church it is called something else to get over the problem. I think you’ll agree (from the video clip below) that Christian Caine is preaching and we should call it what it is. Sarah Bessey explains it like this,
“… the first time I preached in my home church on a Sunday morning. And yes, I’m purposely using the word “preach” – not the more acceptable words we women usually employ when we’re at the front of a church: “sharing” or “talking” even “ministering” perhaps. Preach. It’s a strong word, isn’t it? I want to reclaim the word “preaching” for women and so, as usually happens, I needed to take a walk down the road I’m encouraging other women to take.”
It is important to remember that inequalities towards women is not an issue about preaching and leadership. The debates about women in the church are part of a wider move to address injustices, exclusions and inequalities that prevent us from seeing the full image of God expressed in the world. Half the world are women or as the Chinese saying goes ‘women hold up half the sky’. And Half the Sky is the name of a book and a movement led by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn that exposes dark and forgotten truths about the scale of human suffering still experienced by half the world’s population through sex trafficking, female genocide, female genital mutilation and honour killings.
These are not modern problems; the misogyny in the world or in the church. In 1901 Amy Carmichael an Irish missionary in India met a little girl whose family had sold her into temple prostitution. The little girl sat on Amy’s lap and with the aid of a rag doll she had been given to play with, described to Amy, in detail the degrading practices that had been forced upon her. This is how Amy Carmichael began a mission to rescue girls who had been sold into slavery and provided homes for hundreds of orphans through the work of the now famous Dohnavur Fellowship. Amy Carmichael stood at the turn of the twentieth century. She was a woman who taught from the Word of God, led meetings, administered a campaign, ran an organisation, raised funds, took on opposing institutions, cared for the sick, prayed and wrote all to the glory of God. But be in no doubt: there were plenty of voices telling her that her work in church and her work amongst the poor were unsuitable roles for a woman.
I have always been nervous of speaking in front of people. But today I refused to be intimidated by self doubt and reminders of old inadequacies. I had to do serious battle with some historic demons because I wanted to share effectively a message of transformation that I believe in with all my heart. I wanted to share the gospel as we gathered at the table and took bread and wine together because I believe in it’s great power and I want nothing of me to hinder another from receiving well. I did not want that message to be lost to my nerves or the fog of forgetfulness that comes with a rush of unwanted flight hormones the minute they hand me the mic.
So today I did it! I preached it without fear because if the message is worth preaching it’s worth preaching well.